Charlton Athletic 3-0 Milton Keynes Dons - We weren't playing at our best, admits Stuart Weston

Sunday 19th January 2014
The FA Women’s Cup Second Round
Sunday 19th January 2014
Stephen McCartney reports from Bayliss Avenue

CHARLTON ATHLETIC manager Stuart Weston admitted his side took a while to get going after they avoided slipping up on a potential banana skin in The FA Women’s Cup.

Milton Keynes Dons arrived in Thamesmead sitting in third-place in the South East Combination (one level underneath their hosts) and on the back of four wins on the bounce.

But Matt French’s side failed to trouble the Addicks, who face Sheffield or Liverpool Feds at home in the Third Round in three weeks’ time.

The first half proved to be an uninspiring stalemate underneath blue skies, but three long range strikes from two midfielders during the second half sent Charlton Athletic through.

Charley Clifford, 23, scored twice in seven minutes, before Kit Graham, 18, scored at the death.

“I thought the first half, although we probably controlled it possession wise, we didn’t really create them too many problems in the goalmouth,” said Weston afterwards.

“I think she only had one save to make in the first half.  Our movement off the ball wasn’t quite what we know we can do in the first half, so we had a word at half-time and I think it proved when we came out for the second half, they looked like a different team. They were creating chances and scored three good goals from long range.”

Charlton Athletic – who were playing their first game for a month - created their opening chance inside the opening three minutes when right-back Leigh Houlihan floated in a cross where unmarked lone striker Sam Pittuck sent her header straight at visiting keeper Emma Kirby from 12-yards.

Milton Keynes Dons, who defeated Leighton United and Loughborough to reach this stage of the competition, created their best chance of the game as early as the thirteenth minute.

Rosie Paye – the daughter of watching Cray Wanderers’ assistant manager Mike – was penalised for handball and Charley Wright blasted the resulting free-kick into the wall and Heather McDonnell cracked the rebound, a left-footed drive from 25-yards, which was tipped around the post by the diving Megan Lynch.

Another pass, this time along the deck by Houlihan, was latched onto by Graham, whose right-footed drive took a deflection and looped over the Dons’ crossbar.

Milton Keynes Dons lined up a three-player wall in the seventeenth-minute but Clifford sent her right-footed free-kick over the crossbar.

Despite their decent start, dominant Charlton Athletic lacked quality in the final third against a Milton Keynes Dons that were not keen to venture forward.

“We started off with a 4-3-2-1 (formation), just because I didn’t know about Milton Keynes,” admitted Weston.

“We didn’t know what their strengths were and then we changed it to a 4-4-2 to liven it up with about half-an-hour to go.

“The pace that we’ve got on the wings with Emma (Harrison), it’s quite good to get them forward and with the personnel that we’ve got out at the moment with Gemma Shepherd being injured and people like that it sort of suits what we need to do really.”

The crowd of 86 had to wait until the 42nd minute before Charlton Athletic created their next chance of a first half that lacked quality.

Left-sided midfielder Stef Simmons clipped her left-footed free-kick sailing harmlessly over the wall from 30-yards, before Charlton Athletic squandered an excellent chance right at the death.

Winger Emma Harrison was released down the right and she played a low pass inside the box for Graham, who turned her marker with some close control to roll the ball inside to Pittuck, who poked her shot past the left-hand post from inside the six-yard box after Kirby came out and failed to gather the ball.

Weston admitted the first half was not acceptable for a side that went into the game in seventh-place in The FA Premier League Southern Division.

He said: “What didn’t please me was our movement in the first half and the passing, our passing was off, but what pleased me was the reaction at half-time. I’m sure you’ll agree we looked like a different side when we came out for the second half.

“I don’t think Milton Keynes necessarily did anything different. I just think we stepped up another gear or two and it’s always nice to see a reaction when you’re not playing at your best, but we came out and won quite comfortably in the end.

“I think we’ve got another level or two that we can go up. When you see them at their very best, their passing is just amazing.”

Milton Keynes Dons finally ventured forward and could have broken the stalemate after 64 seconds.

Six-goal striker Emily Mann – who was an isolated figure for the time that she was on the pitch – released McDonnell down the right and her first time right-footed drive from 25-yards was caught by Lynch.

But Charlton Athletic broke the stalemate just 51 seconds later after Clifford scored a goal out of nothing.

The Charlton Athletic number 8 cracked a stunning right-footed drive from 35-yards, which sailed over the stranded Kirby into the top right-hand corner.

“It was a good goal,” said Weston.  “She’s got that, that’s the great thing about having Charley in the side. She’s got a great range of shooting on her with free-kicks and long range as well.

“I think in the second half Charley was also important in breaking the play up in the middle. She put in a lot of tackles and she started to control the game, which I asked of her really.”

Weston was delighted that his players listened to his instructions at the break.

He said: “Yes it’s nice. I told them to do the same in the first half. Sometimes it happens. You have to remember as well we haven’t played since 15 December so there’s probably a little bit of rustiness.  We trained and we’ve had training games but it’s not the same as the real thing and obviously the difficult conditions with the pitch, they weren’t the best but it’s the same for both sides so that’s no excuse.

“I just think we took a while to get going and our concentration levels we’re a little bit low and we wanted to bring them up and in the second half we did.”

The game certainly needed some inspiration- and just like London Red Buses - a second goal swiftly followed in the 53rd minute.

Clifford clipped her right-footed free-kick from 25-yards over the three-girl wall and Kirby helped the ball into the top right-hand corner to kill the game off.

“Last season I had Charley with me a couple of times in the reserves and it got to a state with free-kicks in and around the box that I wouldn’t even watch them.  I didn’t even need to look at them anymore,” revealed Weston.

“I just say to the people this is going to be a goal and she used to put them in all the time. She’s getting that back now. She had quite a long lay-off at the end of last season but now she’s getting her range of shooting back in and two great goals proved that.”

Despite being two goals down, Milton Keynes kept their negative 4-4-1-1 formation and they could have forced their way back into the game on the hour mark.

The ball ran loose to central midfielder Lil Stanton, who stroked a right-footed half-volley towards goal from 25-yards, which forced Lynch to dive to her right to push the ball around the post.

Weston was delighted with the club’s second clean sheet on the bounce.

He said: “Megan’s a top class goalkeeper. We did have people come and ask to talk to her before Christmas but Megan’s decided she’s staying with us, which for me is fantastic.  She’s probably one of the best goalkeeper’s in the league.”

Simmons swung in a corner from the right which was headed over her own crossbar by Kara Howes and from the resulting corner Simmons opted to whip in an out-swinging corner which was headed forward by Katie Flack.   Harrison kept the move alive on the by-line and cut the ball back to Clifford, whose right-footed drive sailed just over the crossbar from 25-yards.

The impressive Clifford whipped in a quality free-kick which was met by a glancing near-post header by Graham, which was saved by Kirby.

Charlton Athletic – who welcome Tottenham Hotspur to Bayliss Avenue in the league next Sunday - wrapped up a deserved win with 31 seconds of normal time remaining.

Milton Keynes Dons gave the ball away and Graham cracked a left-footed drive from 30-yards, which sailed over the keeper and caressed the underside of the crossbar to find the roof of the net for her fourth goal of the season.

“There again, another great strike,” said Weston.

“I thought the goalkeeper was just going to keep it out but fortunately for us it went in off the bar.

“That’s what I want her to do.  Kit’s another player who’s got a great range of shooting. Sometimes she needs the confidence to do it and I said to her see what happens when you have a shot.  She said, “I just looked at it, I can’t be bothered to run anymore so I’ll have a go.”

“If she can do that every game, then I will be happy.”

Milton Keynes Dons failed to make a game of it going forward as it appeared that it was a damage limitation affair - as they went out to the 2005 FA Women’s Cup winners.

Weston said: “I said if we were playing a side a bit more capable going forward, like what we face in our league week in-week out, we’d be in trouble at half-time.

“Fortunately we managed to keep them at 0-0.  They only had three shots, three attempts and Megan dealt with all of those pretty comfortably.  We never looked like we were going to lose the game, especially the second half.  I thought we controlled it pretty much.”

Charlton Athletic should welcome Sheffield – who are top of The FA Women’s Premier League Northern Division with nine wins and one defeat from their eleven league games – in the next round if they see off sixth-placed Northern Combination side Liverpool Feds.

“I’d probably like to get Liverpool Feds to be honest,” said Weston.

“But Sheffield are top of the Premier Northern.  I think they’ve got a goal-difference of something like plus 35, so if it ends up being Sheffield it will end up being a tough game.”

Despite what seems like weeks of wet weather, the Charlton Athletic boss was pleased with the playing surface at Bayliss Avenue, which was played on yesterday, when landlords Thamesmead Town defeated Grays Athletic 1-0.

“It was ok.  There were a few spots that were a bit really soft.  To be fair the amount of bad weather we’ve had I was quite surprised it was good.  I think the dug-outs are in worse shape than anything else but I’m quite surprised just how good it is really bearing in mind the amount of rain that we’ve had.”

Charlton Athletic: Megan Lynch, Leigh Houlihan, Rosie Paye, Katie Flack, Katie Hardaker (Alice Singyard 60), Emma Harrison, Kit Graham, Clare Rogers (Gemma Hyland 72), Charlie Clifford, Stef Simmons (Eliz Ibrahim 69), Sam Pittuck.
Subs: Alex Baker, Megan Carroll

Goals: Charley Clifford 47, 53, Kit Graham 90

Booked: Katie Flack 58

Milton Keynes Dons: Emma Kirby, Emily Ingle, Jess Cutting, Clare Hollingsworth (Chloe Smith 66), Kara Howes, Heather McDonnell (Emma Brockwell 83), Lil Stanton, Kelly Bingham, Charly Wright, Leigh Cudone, Emily Mann (Eden Washington 56).
Subs: Megan Brockwell

Booked: Kara Howes 65

Attendance: 86
Referee: Mr David Lunani (Bromley)
Assistants: Mr Robbie Walsh (Balham, London SW12) & Mr Kenneth Yeck (Forest Gate, London E7)